Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Toda Mafalda (22/81)

Joaquín Salvador Lavado, aka Quino, is a cartoonist with a talent for observing the human condition and translating it into striking and darkly comic observations. Many of his works feature recognizable people in situations whose nightmarishness is made more painful by the truths so cleverly expressed. (It should come as no surprise that Quino's representations of bureaucracies at work bear some resemblance to Kafka's.) However, the comic strip Mafalda combines this dark comic sense with the more innocent realm of kids growing up in Argentina in the late 1960s.

If you are already familiar with Mafalda, Susanita, Manolito, Felipe and the rest of the gang, you probably need little convincing as to why Toda Mafalda, which features every Mafalda strip Quino ever created (including several for side projects or that were left out of previous collections) is a very good thing. (Sadly, the book is not in translation, though the individual collections have been published in English under the name Mafalda & Friends.)

Whenever I've tried to describe Mafalda to friends, I usually resort to describing it as "cross between Peanuts and Bloom County or Doonesbury." Like Peanuts, the principal characters are a group of kids with striking personality differences. (Though unlike Peanuts, the parents are also characters in the action.) But like Doonesbury and Bloom County, the comic deals with political and social topics of its time, including the Vietnam War and the crises affecting Argentina.

The appeal of Mafalda, though, is not in its topical commentary, much of which is dated or inaccessible to the non-Argentine. For one, as with Peanuts, the characters are quite memorable. There is, of course, Mafalda herself, a little girl more fixated on the problems of the world than adults around might find healthy. There is a certain poignancy to her, a sense that sometimes we feel a bit like children ourselves when faced with the complicated and seemingly unsolvable problems of the world. Mafalda has a perfect foil in Susanita, a superficial gossip girl who dreams of achieving status through marriage and motherhood. Her ambitions are something of a throwback, even for their time, but her fascination on the social realm and its secrets is still with us today.

I could go on, but I fear that my descriptions would not do the characters justice, nor Quino's often funny takes on politics, work, friendship, life and death. This is the kind of collection worth having on hand and revisiting quite often.

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